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Gale's View - Disability Confident

March 23rd 2016

There are at present about 31.4 million people employed in the United Kingdom, which is more than at any time in recorded history. Contrary to assertions the overwhelming majority of jobs are not “zero hours contracts” or “part-time” or “low-skilled. They are worthwhile full-time posts offering real rewards and satisfaction.

The area of greatest weakness in the employment market, though, has been and remains in creating opportunities for and employing those very many disabled people who could do some work, want to work but cannot gain a placement.

That is why I recently have my support to a Jobcentre intitiative, “Disability Confident”, designed to promote the cause of those who wish to work and it is also why the recent Welfare Reform Bill included a number of changes to the Employment Support Allowance for people in what is known as the “Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).

In the Summer Budget of 2015 the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that from April 2017 new ESA claimants placed in the WRAG will receive the same rate of benefit as those on Jobseekers` Allowance.(JSA) the changes will not affect any claimants retrospectively.

(This is not the same as the Personal Independence Payment which was created by the then Work and Pensions Secretary, Iain Duncan-Smith, who has now resigned having, first, forcefully promoted his own policy.)

While one person in five moves off Jobseekers` Allowance every month only one in one hundred ESA WRAG claimants do likewise. Disabled people deserve much better than this. As well as providing security for individuals there are many reasons why for those who are able to find employment that is far and away the best and most dignified way to improve the wellbeing and prosperity of individuals and their families.

At present those in the WRAG currently receive additional cash payments but little employment support. Fixing on welfare treats the symptoms but not the causes of poverty and thus all too often can trap people into dependency. Some of the money currently spent on cash payments will therefore be redirected into practical support that will make a genuine difference to people’s life chances.

This is new funding that will be worth £60m in 2017/18 rising to £100m in 2020/21. It will support those with limited capacity for work to take steps to move closer to the job market and then when they are able, back to work. How the money will be spent is going to be influenced by a taskforce of representatives from disability charities, organisations, employers, think tanks, providers and local authorities. A new Work and Health Unit has at least £115m of funding to pilot new ways to join up across the health and employment systems. £43m is being invested over the next three years to trial ways to provide specialist support for people with mental health conditions. The government’s Disability Confident campaign seeks to challenge the attitudes of employers towards recruiting and retaining disabled people.

This government is spending £50 billion of your taxpayers` money each year on benefits to support people with disabilities or health conditions. This is over 6% of all government spending. The budget for Disability support has been higher in every year since 2010 than that of the last Labour government.

I firmly believe that it is important that the resources available get to those who need support most and is spent on securing a long term benefit to those who need such assistance. Some of the media coverage and round-robin campaigning on this issue has been emotive, relying on the thought that it is simply best to write off the possibility of 99 out of 100 people with a disability or a health condition. I made my decision to support the government over its changes to ESA in order to tackle the long term underlying issues which can help those individuals get into and stay in work and I stand by that decision.

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